Flores Friday – Two-Headed Morningtide Standard Set Review, Part I

The Star City $5,000 Standard Open comes to Charlotte, NC!
Today’s Flores Friday is the first installment of our “Two-Headed” Morningtide Standard review. Mike, in collaboration with the Innovator, shares his thoughts on the new cards for Standard play. Sure, everyone wants four Mutavaults, and Countryside Crusher is making a splash… but what other cards should we be picking up while they’re cheap? Tune in on Monday for Patrick Chapin’s conclusion!

Even between two articles, reviewing the entire Morningtide set for Standard seemed like it would be impossible, so the Innovator and I decided to focus on only what we figured from the beginning would be the most relevant cards. The format for this one is that we would each pick our top 5 cards from the set as a whole, and supplement with the best card in each of the colors (and Artifacts, and Lands) not already in that Top 5. Look for Patrick’s follow up on Monday!

I actually tried to pick in such a way that Patrick and I would have some (but not very much) overlap. That’s exactly what happened!

My Top 5 Cards in Morningtide

1. Countryside Crusher
2. Taurean Mauler
3. Titan’s Revenge
4. Oona’s Blackguard
5. Noggin Whack

Patrick’s Top 5 Cards in Morningtide

1. Oona’s Blackguard
2. Chameleon Colossus
3. Noggin Whack
4. Mutavault
5. Bitterblossom

As for the rest:

White: Ballyrush Banneret
Blue: Negate
Black: Scarblade Elite
Red: Shard Volley
Green: Chameleon Colossus
Artifact: Thornbite Staff
Land: Murmuring Bosk

White: Stonehewer Giant
Blue: Everminder
Black: Earwig Squad
Red: Titan’s Revenge
Green: Wolf-Skull Shaman
Artifact: Obsidian Battle-Axe
Land: Murmuring Bosk

Don’t forget that this review is specifically geared towards Standard. Therefore I didn’t go for cards like Idyllic Tutor. I went to the well (“the well” being Gatherer) and looked up all the Enchantments that you can play in Standard. Nope… there was nothing that pushed the three mana Idyllic Tutor into “second coming of Golden Wish” (“second coming” being first coming, functionally, if not literally) range. Maybe it will be significant in other formats, but I just don’t see it for Standard at present.

Okay, now for the details…

Countryside Crusher

No big surprise here. I think that this is going to be the next Tarmogoyf, maybe not in terms of its universal splashability but in terms of 1) being the best creature in the set, and 2) actually bending the universe around itself. Players at all levels are right this second producing many and more ideas on how to profitably position Countryside Crusher; unlike Tarmogoyf, this one isn’t going to sleep at all. It will make an immediate impact, especially as the relevant format du jour is Extended, where Countryside Crusher will be even more valuable than in Standard, in more obvious ways (Onslaught cycle, other Onslaught cycle, Ghost Quarter, Life from the Loam, etc. ad infinitum).

Even in Standard this guy should be a monster. He’s got the right stats for a Red three-drop even if nothing else is going on, but we all know that something will be going on before too long. While there is a potential downside to Countryside Crusher, don’t count on losing to mana flood: You’re not going to draw any lands the natural way ever again. This is something I didn’t mention in my original preview on magicthegathering.com, but Crucible of Worlds is legal in Standard by way of Tenth Edition, and might make for a defining pair with the Crusher. Pete, raise your prices now!

When I mention bending the universe around it, I mean that people will inevitably metagame against Crusher end games the same way they prepare for, say Enduring Ideal in Extended. I’ve mentioned this before, but a well placed Temporal Isolation might lead to an embarrassing loss on tempo if you are “stuck” with the best three drop in recent memory on your side of the table.

I am actually shocked Patrick didn’t have the Crusher in either of his lists.

Taurean Mauler

This probably going to be a controversial pick, but as a great lover of Boreal Druids and everything more-or-less similar to Boreal Druids, Taurean Mauler just reminds me of the original Forgotten Ancient development stories. Forgotten Ancient got, well, forgotten more-or-less before it ever saw real play because at four mana it didn’t end up particularly impressive. However, at three mana it was a monster of some renown in the Renton, WA league, and had to be de-powered by that full mana to prevent a river of un-fun. Taurean Mauler can come out on the second turn via Birds of Paradise, Llanowar Elves, or of course Boreal Druid and really deal some damage. Think about it: You can’t even Shock (Tarfire, whatever you want to call it) this guy! Any deck that doesn’t immediately have removal for it will at least have to pause and think about things for a moment before taking action. A quick drop deck with a little Red removal will be able to get the Mauler in consistently, and the Green side might just be tasked to protection duty. Heck, with Brute Force, the Red side might.

This is subtle, but Taurean Mauler is a Changeling. That means that it can’t get killed by default removal spells like Eyeblight’s Ending, but will help its master out on, say, Tribe-stamped effects should one of those come up in Constructed play (who knows?!?). Rogue ya, brah.

While Taurean Mauler doesn’t get the proactive benefits that Forgotten Ancient did, I think that (kind of like Countryside Crusher) the stats are just there for a Red three-drop that it can be productive in the abstract while also boasting a potentially huge upside.

Titan’s Revenge

Back when Demonfire was in Standard, I formulated quite a few strategies around how to successfully play that card. Of course sometimes you burned it (literally) on the second turn to take out a Birds of Paradise, but usually Demonfire was best as a finisher. One of my favorite decks was based around G/R Snow, baiting with Ohran Viper, hassling with land destruction, but ultimately sculpting to a final turn where Demonfire would be Hellbent and unstoppable. Another strategy I used was “point and click,” which was basically to tap all my mana every turn and empty my hand in the hopes of exhausting the opponent’s reactive capabilities while trading at value at some point. This technique served me well… It was how I played to win the 2006 New York State Championship; when your last card is Demonfire, trading for a single card advantage was just a perfect plan.

Now even more than in 2006, G/R Snow is a viable deck in Standard; this time it comes ready built with a ton of mana. Big mana spells are by nature brute force monsters, so you can’t play as deceptively, maybe, but the presence of more mana and more powerful cards makes up for that quite a bit as a higher percentage of your plays can actually win the game, standalone. “Point and click” should actually work really well here… When I did it a year or so back, I tried not to care about how the trades were going. Tournament cards tend to be all about the same value in the long run, so any trade was fine as long as I could position myself for the last play. You just can’t worry about playing around a Mana Leak when you are trying to win this way. In a sense, Titan’s Revenge puts you even more in the driver’s seat. Why? You get paid back like half the time. This card is significantly worse than Demonfire on its face, but the fact that you can potentially play Titan’s Revenge over and over is a huge advantage. Think about it in a deck like G/R Mana Ramp… It goes beyond “just winning half the time” or whatever. Your cards are actually expensive, so you will potentially win a disproportionate amount of the time. You flip a spell, he flips a spell… Yours is a six.

Subtly, Titan’s Revenge, like any Clash card, can help you regulate your draw. Some decks want a spell, others need to rip a land in order to take a squeaker the next turn. Win or lose on that top card, buy the Revenge back or no, if you can set up the desperate final land drop, you just might steal one you don’t really deserve.

Outside of Snow, I’m not sure how popular it will be. Standard Red Decks at present aren’t really built to incorporate Titan’s Revenge… Then again, this might be an “if you build it they will come” situation. After all, there is another CCX X-spell in this Block that has elbowed its way into a Constructed favorite.

Oona’s Blackguard

Rogue seems like it will be the most popular new deck to come out of Morningtide, and Oona’s Blackguard is almost the poster child of this strategy. As a quick flyer, Oona’s Blackguard is almost a third turn Prowl game-breaker waiting to happen. The card’s ability to boost other Rogues is nothing to be trifled with… If there is anything wrong with Rogues, it’s that they’re by in large not very, you know, large. Oona’s Blackguard can shave a turn or more off the clock. This just seems like a superb staple of Rogues to me.

Oh yeah, everyone is Hypnotic Specters. Rah rah, rah rah rah.

Noggin Whack

This card just seems awesome to me. I can live with playing it on turn 4. Whatever. I have main deck Mournwhelks in my U/G Standard deck. The upside though… On the back of a one drop Rogue this card just seems devastating on the second turn. Whack! It’s almost better than Hymn to Tourach.

For both Oona’s Blackguard and Noggin Whack, I just keep thinking about multiples. What happens when you have two Oona’s Blackguards, or one-two with a pair of Noggin Whacks? Rogue seems so devastating for slow, mid-range strategies, or any control deck that missteps whatsoever.

Chameleon Colossus

Patrick apparently liked this one more that I do (which is ironic as he likes Blue cards and broken strategies, whereas I like advancing board position into the mid-range), though we both found room for it in our Top 12 lists…

The 4/4 for four has been the defining good Green card for, well, Green for something like the last 12 years. At my first Pro Tour the upstate New York guys were all touting their G/W deck with Nettletooth Djinn (I think one finished Top 16). Look at how far Chameleon Colossus has come from that abomination of a barely playable-yet (apparently)-conditionally awesome four-drop. His core functionality of 4/4 for four is quite solid, not something you would typically see in any other color; look for CC to drop on turn 3 for most Green players’ plans.

The first big plus sign is that Protection from Black should be awesome against Rogues. Given that Rogues is the early predicted popularity contest winner, that is quite a big plus. On top of that, seeing CC go to 8/8 will not only not be unreasonable, but will probably occur the majority of games that the Green mage has the initiative, even on turn 4 or 5; and you can realistically see 16 or more power… It doesn’t take that much mana. This card should find a home in numerous styles of decks, from Standard variants of The Rock to pure beatdown.

What about Fatal Frenzy? Overkill? That’s what they said about the other guy’s life total.

This is neither here nor there for Standard, but Chameleon Colossus goes straight into Bests. Just awesome with Contested Cliffs.


There is a wealth of great man lands in Standard. Mutavault is a great card for certain but I’m not sure why you would pick this one over a color stamped monster like Treetop Village other than that it comes into play untapped. That said, a Blue deck like Sonic Boom could certainly benefit from a six- or eight-pack of passive attackers in, say, a 28 land build. On balance, while I can see multicolor decks making room for Urza’s Legacy man lands (many already do!), Mutavault seems a little clunky to play in Standard, given the options.

Like I said, a great card for certain… I just don’t know who will play it in Standard yet.


I had this card on my short list for a while but came back repeatedly to comparing it to a card I don’t particularly like, Phyrexian Arena. I’m glad Patrick picked it because I do think Bitterblossom is an interesting card to ponder.

Here are some specific questions to consider:

1) What is the relative value of a random card off the top versus a 1/1 flyer (usually I think I’d rather have a random card)?

2) How much does it matter that this card comes down on turn 2 rather than turn 3 (we all know it matters a ton)?

3) How much can Rogues benefit from this card versus other options (there is the question!)?

I’ve heard some criticism that you don’t want to take a point every turn when you’re under pressure, which is true, but don’t forget that producing a 1/1 that can block might actually save you more than the point you are giving up.

Probably a very good card in a very good strategy (or maybe in many decks).

Ballyrush Banneret

I liked a lot of the Red and Black cards (obviously… all my Top 5 cards are Red and Black), and I wasn’t really sure how to evaluate White. I intentionally sidestepped pet cards like Feudkiller’s Verdict 1) because I had already written about Feudkiller’s Verdict, but more importantly because I figured some sort of linear is going to come out of White, maybe not as popular or effective as Rogues, but present in the metagame nonetheless… Ballyrush Banneret seemed like the defining piece in that sort of a deck. Unlike some of the other enablers, the Banneret is a functional two drop: Pushing everything else aside, he’s got two power for two mana. Sure he makes two mana or more per turn, but he never lets up on core functionality. Seeing how Magic is a game defined by two-drops, a legitimate attacker for two seemed like a safe bet.


Aaron Forsythe asked me “if I’d play this” a few months before a certain card was originally released. My snap judgment gut reaction was “I dunno… maybe sideboard?” He laughed at me. “You’ll play it. You’ll definitely play it, main deck.” He was right: The card was Spell Snare.

I had a similar reaction to Negate. Maybe sideboard?



Because it doesn’t counter creatures?

At my first Pro Tour I was playtesting for a couple of days beforehand and countered one of Mike Lucarello’s threats. “That’s wrong. That’s terrible.” Jon Finkel agreed. I had White spells in my control deck to deal with creatures. Forget about the fact that I didn’t have one actually in hand. “That’s bad form. You don’t counter creatures,” (It wasn’t a Wildfire Emissary or anything).

The most dangerous card on the other side of the table is rarely a creature; even when it is a creature, most reactive decks typically have some way of dealing with it, even if it is just putting one of your own creatures in front of the threat. Negate is by no means perfect, but everything that says “Counter target spell” sees play, and this one is costed right for mass appeal.

Okay, maybe sideboard…

Scarblade Elite

I specifically tried not to pick a Rogue-stamped card for this one. There are other Black strategies besides Rogue, and especially with two Rogue-stamped cards in my Top 5, I wanted to explore some other avenues given that we all know Rogues is going to be played, and that my initial analysis is that the value of the deck is more about aggregate capabilities and tempo than individual card contributions. All the Black spells that I considered for this color offered cheap card advantage. Pulling Teeth seemed pretty persuasive, but I went with Scarblade Elite for the same reason that I chose Ballyrush Banneret for White: I like two drops. Black two drops for BB are always insane (Black Knight, Order of the Ebon Hand, Dauthi Slayer, Nantuko Shade… nothing but cards that have gotten YT on the PT). This one can beat for two of course, it will likely beat for two before doing anything else. The additional ability is not something that I would fixate on beyond knowing it is there to help offer value in some situations, but when it does, those situations will be devastating.

I don’t think you can really get all mad if someone uses a Red or Black spot removal spell to deal with your Scarblade Elite. The only time you invest your whole game into a two drop is when you are playing Meddling Mage or Gaddock Teeg against a combo deck and they probably can’t remove it at all. Scarblade Elite is a fair card built specifically for fair play, but will probably end up seeming unfair in those games where it is above average at all. Trade trade trade whatever. As the game progresses, your previous Scarblade Elites and Changelings (and other Assassins, whatever they may be… maybe you will have a legitimate reason to play Nekrataal) will set you up kind of like a progressive Yawgmoth’s Will… in the right matchups at least. I know some Vintage players are scratching their heads at that one; however long before you guys were using Yawgmoth’s Will as a one-time only game finisher, we low tech designers were building decks that could play the card from many different angles. Of course we had our devastating repeated mana / repeated cheap play / avalanche of card advantage turns in Standard or even Block, but there were other Will angles that were more strategic, hard to play around, and even beautiful. One was to just get a 2-for-1 or 3-for-1 out of every Will, but to use it for very specific interactions and setup sequences, to supplement a Dust Bowl and re-cast a Vampiric Tutor while gaining some life and removing a threat. That way we were able to chain Will into Will, making a 2-for-1 or 3-for-1 every turn until we had gotten to the fourth Will… and by that point the amount of value we had pulled out of the Wills was completely overwhelming. Forget about it! There was the fourth Will! The fourth Will was probably rock and roll, something you’re more used to. Even at a fourth 2-for-1, you are talking about +8 or thereabouts while clocking with a four or five from the outset.

Scarblade Elite can play a similar game. Trade. Trade at value. Trade again. Hold. Think of these trades as investments in the future. Think of a dead Chameleon Colossus, or a straight up two drop for two drop brawl on turn 3 as a tent pole upon which you will hang your giant striped awning come turn 10 or 15. That is what I mean about playing Scarblade Elite like a progressive Yawgmoth’s Will. Once you position the game to topdeck mode, what can, say, Kithkin do about your little Black two drop?

Shard Volley

When I look at this card I just keep remembering mid-to-late 1990s development horror stories about Fireblast (before there was really an internal Development team). Did you know that at one point you just returned lands to your hand instead of sacrificing Mountains? This card is going to prompt, if not as many complaints as Fireblast, a fine number of game wins in Standard. I know it just seems like the world’s worst Lightning Bolt, but consider other cards that are known to be great already and how they might interact with Shard Volley:

1) Tarmogoyf – Unlike Extended or Legacy, “Land” is not an automatic card type in every player’s graveyard on turn 1. Shard Volley is like four or even five damage with a Tarmogoyf, potentially split up 3 + 1 or 3 + 2. Greater Gargadon has re-written how we think about certain branches of card advantage in beatdown decks… Don’t immediately dismiss this one.

2) Spinerock Knoll – On the turn you’re going off, this might just be flat out better than Shock and Tarfire. Certainly it is attractive with a Shock and a Tarfire!

3) Countryside Crusher and Crucible of Worlds – Got those wheels turning yet?

Thornbite Staff over Obsidian Battle-Axe

My pick of the Thornbite Staff was based on its cost (cheap to play) and the fact that its “Goblin Sharpshooter” ability is the most powerful of the group. You can put it on a busty Changeling like Chameleon Colossus, kill some creatures, attack, and probably mise a free point here and there.

Now that I am forced to consider my partner in crime’s thought process, I think that Patrick’s pick of Obsidian Battle-Axe is more obviously solid, though the Battle-Axe seemed quite expensive to me at the outset. In a dedicated Warriors and Changelings strategy you can lay it out on turn 2 or 3 and really start crushing Fires of Yavimaya style, though.

Turn 1 Birds of Paradise.
Turn 2 Obsidian Battle-Axe
Turn 3 Chameleon Colossus

In that kind of a strategy, on a perfect curve, the card is potentially devastating. Don’t forget that you can play kind of janky combat creatures in the mid-game and that due to the Unholy Strength of the equipped creatures, the opponent will probably have to put something in the way (go go Civic Wayfinder).

Murmuring Bosk

Here is a land that made both our supplemental lists, though Patrick had another land in the actual Top 5 (his long view on Mishra’s Factory is probably better than mine because I stopped playing that card right before he started making Pro Tour Top 8 with it).

As for Murmuring Bosk, it’s pretty obviously a great card. Because it is a Forest you get the basic synergies from cards like Treefolk Harbinger (and even more attractive ones in formats with Onslaught duals). It produces three colors of mana. In the right deck, it just runs laps around chase rares like Llanowar Wastes.

You don’t actually have to think very hard about what kind of a deck to play this card in. The answer is probably any deck that requires Vorosh mana, but it is Treefolk-stamped and can fill the gap on any of Doran’s requirements. Good mana tends to overshadow good magical spells in the long run (think Steam Vents over Electrolyze or Niv-Mizzet)… I probably should have positioned this gem in the actual Top 5.

Stonehewer Giant

I know Stonehewer Giant is exactly the kind of card that I am “supposed” to like, but I am not enthused so far. If you already have Obsidian Battle-Axe, he’s probably absolutely insane, but otherwise, I think he’s a bit clunky the turn he comes down. The Durkwood Boars that I play usually do something like smash an artifact the turn they come into play, whereas Stonehewer will often be afraid to block under pressure for want of value (though there is no doubt that the upside potential is huge). Perhaps that’s a limitation on my part… But for mid-range cards I tend not to look at how high they can jump but rather what they can do for me right now. If you want to go the other direction, there are all kinds of Dragonstorms and Ignite Memories for you, and Stonehewer Giant is not in that league.

One question to remember for a Standard review is how likely is it that you are going to want to search up multiple pieces of Equipment? With a price tag of seven at value, you can certainly net mana by paying 1W for the equivalent of six or so, but the only really popular piece right now is Loxodon Warhammer, which is generally a one-of or thereabouts in mid-range tempo oriented decks. My gut is that for Standard, Stonehewer Giant is exciting for many aspiring deck designers to begin with but will not actually produce a great deck given the tenor of the metagame. I am perfectly willing to be wrong, of course; this is exactly the kind of card I am “supposed” to like, after all!


What is this card? I am not down with the lingo, I guess.

Patrick’s original pick (via phone message, before a last minute Myspace PM) was Slithermuse. I’ll just write about that one.

That card seems like Necropotence in an attrition fight. I don’t think I’d play it main deck because my orientation is to always assume I am under pressure by beatdown when constructing decks, but in a deck with a lot of fast plays, specifically against the control, Slithermuse should be just unbelievable. Talk about point and click!

If I did play Slithermuse main, I think that I’d try it in a Blink deck, though probably not as a four of, at least not to start. You aren’t forced to discard down if you’re ahead, so there isn’t really any downside besides having a potentially clunky 3/3 for four in your deck.

The other place that this card could potentially shine – against specifically against the control or at least a deck with some amount of card drawing – would be in a deck with a ton of fast mana. Drop every Lotus, Mind Stone, Elf, whatever, then immediately reload with Evoke.

Sideboard All-Star?

Earwig Squad

Ah, the Jester’s Cap Juggernaut! If Noggin Whack is your Circular Logic, Earwig Squad is your Arrogant Wurm. Just like Arrogant Wurm, this card underperforms played from hand, but woe unto decks thin on finishers should its prowl be paid!

Obviously going to be a staple of Rogue decks; will likely contribute to the re-writing of Standard away from any slow control decks specifically thin on finishers. Should definitely up the count of fast one-for-one removal cards to pre-empt prowl.

Wolf-Skull Shaman

This card is a lot like two of my supplemental fives, a functional two drop with a legitimate upside; in this case, I think Wolf-Skull Shaman is actually more exciting than either, but then again, I didn’t have Chameleon Colossus in my Top 5.

As with Banneret and the Assassin, it doesn’t strictly matter at the baseline if you ever get a Wolf. For cards that cost this amount of mana you can’t plan for that with every Shaman. Wolves are gravy. Build your deck to get Wolves… You will find yourself covered in gravy long term whereas your opponents might just find themselves covered in gore. Don’t forget that some Wolves have Deathtouch (just putting it out there)! You will obviously not drop this two into every deck that can produce a G like Tarmogoyf, but you already knew that.

Here’s the real question: Is Wolf-Skull Shaman good enough to force either Wren’s Run Vanquisher or Tarmogoyf out of the shooting guard spot in Standard Elves? With some players willing to play any Civic Wayfinders or four drop Black flyers over at least the fourth ‘Goyf… I think that it is a distinct possibility for heavily tribal decks… Interesting pick from Patrick, and certainly an exciting card.

Second half of the review comes Monday.